Sunday, December 2, 2007

Helen Keller - Jamaica Plain Home Girl

Image courtesy of Ebay.

The Perkins Institution for the Blind was founded in 1829, and in time settled into a home in South Boston. Eventually, it was decided to build a separate facility for the youngest children, and in the 1880s, land was purchased at the corner of Centre and Day streets, on property now the home of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center. Over time, applications far exceeded the space available at the school, and more building were constructed. During this time, the school and its students became a popular cause of the day, with one very famous resident, and many fund-raising events were held to support the growth of the school.

In spite of its great success, and all the contributions that came its way, the institution was not to stay long in Jamaica Plain. By 1908, the administration had decided to move their facility from South Boston to suburban Watertown, and the kindergarten went as well.

I could understand why I never heard of the Perkins kindergarten in Jamaica Plain. It only lasted some twenty years, and the name became associated with Watertown in the intervening years. The question is, why didn't I know about Helen Keller living in Jamaica Plain? I sat and watched The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke playing Helen, and it never came up that Helen had lived for a time up the street at Hyde Square? Jeesh!

Note: In the original Boston Globe articles of this time, they would often separate some text and put it in bold letters within a paragraph. It may be a little confusing to read here, but I try to reproduce the contemporary articles as accurately as possible. As always, I also keep their paragraph breaks.

You can read an article on the Perkins Kindergarten from The New England Magazine, dated December, 1895 here. This article also has some nice photographs of the buildings and the children.

Boston Daily Globe January 16, 1884

A Kindergarten for the Blind.

The girls at the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind, South Boston, are zealously preparing articles for a fair to be held in the school rooms, on the 21st and 22nd of February. The proceeds are to be used to help toward the establishment of the kindergarten. The fair will give friends of the cause an opportunity to assist the work and also to convince themselves of the need and practicability of a kindergarten for the little blind children. All contributions will be gratefully received.


An article from October 22, 1887 reports that the first building was open, with 16 children in attendance and more to be accepted as finances allowed.


Boston Daily Globe May 23, 1891

In Work, Word and Song.

The little children of the kindergarten for the blind at Jamaica Plain, in which the public is now so deeply interested, will take part in the commencement exercises of the Perkins institution at Tremont Temple, on Tuesday, June 2, at 3 p.m. They will tell in work, words and song, the story of an apple tree, and are sure to charm their audience. A variety of musical selections for organ, band and violin, besides, choruses and a duet, will be given, and the literary department, and that for physical culture, will be represented in a pleasing manner.

Two of the blind and deaf children, Edith M. Thomas and Hellen Keller, who are pupils of the school, under the care of special teachers, will take part in recitations with their schoolmates. From a graduating class of 11 members, Miss Housington has been chosen valedictorian.

The growth of this school demands increased accommodation at the kindergarten, and concerning this need Dr. Samuel Eliot will make a brief address. Complimentary tickets for reserved seats have been issued, and in their distribution preference is given to the benefactors and contributors to the funds of the institution.

The second balcony is free, and the public are cordially invited to be present.

Boston Daily Globe April 22, 1893

Sightless Children. Dedication of New Building in Jamaica Plain. It is Intended for Girls Who Are Taught to See and Hear. Lieut-Gov. Wolcott Was Among the Guests at the Exercises.

"Great wide, beautiful, wonderful world
With the wonderful water 'round you curled,

And the wonderful grass upon your breast,

World, you are beautifully dressed"

Thus sang the sweet-voiced choir of little sightless children at the opening of the dedication exercises which were held yesterday afternoon at 3 o'clock, at the kindergarten for the blind in Jamaica Plain, corner of Perkins and Day sts.

The new building is a beautiful brick structure, very similar to the old building; it faces south, with an entrance on Perkin st.

The rapid increase in the number of applicants who were eager to enter the kindergarten, but could not be admitted for want of room, and the urgency of the immediate removal of most of them from their surroundings,induced the trustees to undertake this new building, which was completed and opened the first of last January.

The children have since been separated, the boys occupying the old building and the girls the new home.

The entire institution was thrown open to inspection of the visitors, among whom were:

[many names listed here].

The girls' home is very pleasantly located. One enters a broad hall; to the left is a parlor, while on either side are large airy rooms devoted to the kindergarten and primary classes. There is also the cosy dining room, with its pretty outlook, matron's cheerful little office, and the kitchen and toilet rooms.

On the second floor are two teachers' rooms, a guest chamber, music room, and

Nursery for the Young

children several chambers and bath rooms.

On the next floor is a large nursery for the older girls and eight chambers, while at the top of the house is a large hall and playroom for the children.

Twenty-two little girls are at present happily domiciled in the new building, and another one is expected today.

After inspecting the new building, the guests crossed the lawn to the new gymnasium or hall, which is part of the two foundation stories of the great middle building which will some day be erected.

Here the exercises were held. At 3:30 o'clock the children marched from both buildings, accompanied by their teachers, and took their places upon the platform, where were also seated Lieut-Gov. Wollcott, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, Rev. Charles G. Ames, Mr Edward N. Perkins, Mr John S. Dwight, Mrs William Appleton, Miss Mary Russell, Rev. Phillip S Moxon and Hon. J.W. Dickinson.

The hall was filled to its utmost capacity when Mr Anagnos, the director, called to order, and as Mr Henry Lee Higginson who was expected to be present and preside was at the last moment unavoidably detained, Lieut-Gov. Wolcott was called upon to take his place.

Mr Wolcott was warmly welcomed and after the appreciative hand-clapping made a very effective little speech.

He spoke in praise of the excellent work which the institution has accomplished and which is the pride and glory of Massachusetts.

The foundation was laid on broad lines, and since the hands that started it have laid down the work it has been successfully continued on and deserves to succeed.

He did not think Massachusetts would allow such an institution as this to be hampered for need of funds to carry on such a great and beneficent purpose.

In conclusion Mr. Wolcott said he was sure nothing he could say would appeal more strongly to the sympathy and generosity of the audience than the little children before them.

After the opening song by the children, Mr. Wolcott introduced Rev. Charles G. Ames, who visited the institution yesterday for the first time. He made a very sympathetic address, paying a glowing tribute to Mr. Anagnos' work. He thought it was impossible for anyone to read the letters published in the last annual report and see the children and their exercises and not be impressed with the value of the work being done.

He thought it should only be necessary to

Suggest the Needs

necessary to have the work that is being done carried forward.

Then followed a dedication march, played by a trio of little girls, one of whom is colored. They were Martha Griffin, Sophia J. Muldoon and E. Elizabeth Saunders.

Mrs. Julia Ward Howe was next called upon. She facetiously remarked that her son-in-law was something of a despot. He said she must write a poem, and read it on this occasion. She obeyed.

[more speakers discussed the the school and its financial needs]

Boston Daily Globe September 10, 1898

Blind Architect's Work

Dennis Reardon Designed New Building for Kindergarten at Jamaica Plain

Mr Dennis Reardon, a graduate of the Perkins Institution for the blind at South Boston and at the present in charge of the printing office and library of that institution, is the architect of the new building just erected in connection with the kindergarten for the blind at Jamaica Plain, which will be ready for occupancy the last of this month.

This is the third building which has been erected on the large estate corner of Perkins and Day sts, Jamaica Plain, by the trustees of the Perkins Institution. The whole estate includes about eight and three-fourths acres, and recently has been much improved by the laying out of 120 shade and fruit trees.

This new building is four stories and of red brick with brownstone front and belting of the same material. Ascending a short flight of stone steps one enters a vestibule, the floor of which is laid with mosaic. The reception room on the right is finished in ash and cherry, with venetian blinds, paneled in recess, and with marble grates. The rooms are all high-studded, with mellow-tinted walls, and uniform in finish to that of the reception room.

To the rear of the reception room on the first floor are the dining room, pantry and kitchen. Across the hall, which has a highly polished maple floor, are two schoolrooms, a clothes-press, a matron's office and toilet room. The second and third floors are taken up with dormitories, each containing two beds. Provision is made on the second floor for a piano. The fourth floor is fitted up as a hall for drill and gymnastics.

The furnishings of the schoolrooms are divided into three grades, to conform to the stature and with consideration of the comfort of the pupils. The laundry and storerooms are in the basement. There is also a room for the teaching of sloyd. The building is to be heated throughout by steam, and, to provide for emergencies, fire hose attachments are placed on each floor.

Mr Reardon, the architect of the building, is about 50 years old. When he was an infant his parents came to this country from Ireland and settled in South Boston. He has been blind since he was 8 years old, having lost his sight from cold and inflammation of the eyes. He began his education at the Perkins Institution for the blind, at South Boston, when Dr Howe was the leading spirit of the institution. For more than a quarter century Mr Reardon has been its chief architect, printer, mechanic, and all-round man generally, but his great interest is in architecture. He has planned at least a dozen houses in connection with the school for the blind. He is happily married and has one child, a boy of 5.

Mr Reardon's very remarkable work has been accomplished under the direction of Mr Anagnos, who is making his life work one of untiring effort in behalf of the sightless.

Miss Mary Jones, formerly a matron of the school for the Deaf in Minnesotta, has been appointed matron of the new building. Miss Hopkins, who has just graduated from the state normal school at Framingham, has been appointed teacher of literature, and Miss Hall a graduate of North Bennett st manual training school, will have charge of manual training. Miss Abbot will be transferred from the old school and have charge of music.

The cost of the new building will be in the neighborhood of $56,000, and in order to provide this sum of money in has been necessary to draw from the small surplus saved from the receipts for current expenses, also from the legacies and donations received during the past year. This will of necessity prevent the receipt of any income from the investment of these legacies and donations, while the organization of the third household equal in size and similar in all its features and requirements to the other two now in existence will increase the amount of current expenses by one-third at least.

Under the circumstances the trustees are obliged to appeal to the friends and benefactors of the little blind children, not only for increased annual assistance, but for increased annual subscriptions and donations, until a permanent source of income sufficient for all its needs shall be secured.


In September, 1908, Superintendent Allen was asked whether the kindergarten would move to Watertown with the main school. He responded "Yes, I should advocate that." And so went the Jamaica Plain campus of the famous kindergarten of the Perkins Institution for the Blind.

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